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An ion is an atom or molecule with a net electrical charge.


The electric charge of an electron is considered to be negative by convention and this charge is equal and opposite to the charge of a proton, which is considered to be positive by convention. The net charge of an ion is not zero because its total number of electrons is unequal to its total number of protons.

A cation is a positively charged ion with fewer electrons than protons, while an anion is a negatively charged ion with more electrons than protons. Ions consisting of only a single atom are called atomic or monatomic ions, while two or more atoms form molecular ions or polyatomic ions. Opposite electric charges are pulled towards one another by electrostatic force, so cations and anions attract each other and readily form ionic compounds.

In the case of physical ionization in a fluid (gas or liquid), "ion pairs" are created by spontaneous molecule collisions, where each generated pair consists of a free electron and a positive ion. Ions are also created by chemical interactions, such as the dissolution of a salt in liquids (like water), or by other means, such as passing a direct current through a conducting solution, dissolving an anode via ionization.


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